This film is an intelligent examination of an easygoing doctor (Liam Neeson at his teddy bear best) and his discovery of Nell (Oscar nominee Jodie Foster), a woman who was raised in the woods with no human contact except her speech-impaired mother. The movie covers a familiar "fish out of water" story unlocking Nell's soul (by deciphering her incomprehensible language) and then taking her into the modern world. What makes Nell special is the earnest work by Neeson, Natasha Richardson (as an uptight psychologist), and a rich, small array of supporting members (journeyman Nick Searcy as the town sheriff is marvelous). At its center is another extraordinary job by Foster, who also produced. Director Michael Apted (Thunderheart) brings his regular load of realism into the picture, set aglow by luscious camerawork (by Dante Spinotti) in the hills of North Carolina. Through lyrical speech and gesture, Foster makes you believe she's in another woman's body, akin to Jeff Bridges's work in Starman, a marvelous sight to behold that powers the movie. Written by William Nicholson (Shadowlands) and Mark Handley, based on Handley's play Idioglossia. --Doug Thomas
Nell is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.